Last week's outbreak of E. coli at Jacquith Strawberry Farm in Newberg hit a little too close to home. Jacquith berries were sold at the Lake Oswego Farmers' Market. It is evident that we can no longer take food safety for granted. E.coli bacteria are so widely disseminated now that a wide variety of foods can be contaminated.
All food has bacteria and since there is no fail-safe food safety program, we need to follow the adage that 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' I don't mean to be an alarmist, but I believe we would be wise to double our efforts to keep food safe. And what does that mean?
First off, no more eating produce without it being properly washed. Period.
Insist that everyone who comes into contact with your food supply chain practices meticulous personal hygiene. That means family and guests but also your produce man, butcher, etc.
To properly wash your hands use soap and warm water to scrub the front, back, between the fingers and under nails. It should take more than 20 seconds.
Dry your hands with a paper towel rather than share a cloth towel. I know that isn't a very 'green' practice, but cloth towels can pass bacteria from person to person.
E.coli bacteria are very hardy and can survive on surfaces for weeks. It takes just a few bacteria to induce serious illness.
There isn't a practical way to police the hygiene of food service workers, but you can check with local departments of health to identify restaurants that have been given citations or warnings.
Be careful to avoid cross contamination when preparing and cooking food. Use separate cutting boards for vegetables and meats. Use separate trays and utensils to transport raw food to the cooking surfaces than you use to remove the cooked food from the cooking surface.
Don't allow children to share bath water with anyone who has any signs of diarrhea or 'stomach flu.' And please - this seems so obvious it floors me to see it happen - keep toddlers still in diapers out of all bodies of water, especially wading and swimming pools.
Don't let any family members touch and pet farm animals without thoroughly washing their hands immediately following. Hand sanitizer may not be enough to remove E.coli bacteria.
Wear disposable gloves when changing diapers or any child with any type on diarrhea. If gloves aren't available then thorough hand washing is a must.
Cooking hamburgers until they are brown doesn't guarantee that E. coli bacteria have been killed. This is especially true of frozen patties; you need to verify that the core temperature of the meat is at least 160ºF for at least 15 seconds. Instant read thermometers are inexpensive, easy to use and can ensure that your food is safe.
Avoid drinking or even playing with any non-chlorinated water. There is an added risk if the water is close to, or downstream from any livestock.
The Colorado State University Extension Service reports that recent studies show that soaking fresh produce such as lettuce and apples in vinegar is particularly effective to reduce E. coli 0157:H7. They suggest soaking produce in distilled white vinegar for three to five minutes, stirring occasionally. Rinse with clean tap water to remove vinegar flavor. They also recommending washing only what you will use immediately, as prewashing foods could give the remaining bacteria time to grow again.
These warnings may sound extreme to some of you. All through my childhood we ate watermelon and cantaloupe without washing the rind before cutting and for years the hallmark of a good burger was the pink tinge in the middle.
If all it takes is a little extra attention to cleanliness, that is small price to pay.
And by all means, don't let concern about E.coli curtail your food fun.
In fact, the Review and Tidings staff recently had a potluck cookout to test drive one of Cuisinart's new portable barbecue grills. If you are looking for an easy-to-assemble and easy-to-use grill for the upcoming tailgating season, I suggest you look at the Cuisinart brand.
The unit we tested could be used on a tabletop or the telescoping legs turned it into a free standing unit. It was lightweight, easy to clean and simple to use. Its compact size makes it easy to stow, but still is large enough to accommodate grilling eight burgers at a time.
We liked the grill.
One of the foods included in the relish tray Review editor Martin Forbes brought was jicama, which was a new food for several on the staff.
Jicama is a crispy, sweet, edible root that resembles a large turnip. It is native to South and Central America and is quite popular in Mexican cuisine. News to me is that jicama is actually a legume and grows on vines that may reach 20 feet in length.
Before eating jicama you need to peel away the brown coarse layer to reveal the sweet white flesh. It is about 80 percent water and is excellent eaten raw with dips or in salads.
If you haven't tried jicama, make this the week you do. I've included two recipes that are quick and simple and will showcase jicama's flavor well.
And of course, please remember to wash your hands before you begin preparing them!
Bon Appetit! Eat something wonderful!
Black Bean, Jicama and Grilled Corn Salad
Makes 8 servings
2 large ears of corn, husked
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup 1/3 inch dice peeled jicama
½ cup 1/3 inch dice peeled carrots
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup packed chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 ½ teaspoons grated lime zest
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush corn with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Grill corn until tender and brown in spots, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly. Cut off corn kernels, place in large bowl. Add black beans, jicama, carrots, green onions, cilantro and basil.
Whisk limejuice, orange juice, lime zest, cumin and remaining 4 tablespoons oil in small bowl. Mix dressing into bean salad. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Cook's note: Salad can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover; chill. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.
Adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2004
Watermelon, Cucumber and Jicama Salad
Makes 6 servings
4 cups cubed (1/2 inch) seeded watermelon (about 3 pounds)
2 cups cubed (1/2 inch) peeled jicama (about 1 pound)
2 cups cubed (1/2 inch) peeled and seeded cucumber (1 ½ pounds)
½ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
Toss together all ingredients in a serving bowl. Serve immediately.
Cook's note: Watermelon and vegetables can be cubed and combined 6 hours ahead and chilled, covered. Add lime juice, herbs and salt just before serving. Herbs can be chopped and combined 6 hours ahead and chilled, covered.
Adapted from Gourmet, July 2004